The NFL is no stranger to trouble. Its athletes have made headlines for shooting themselves in the foot, running dogfights, and all-too-many drug charges and strip club fights. But in the past two weeks, the sport has buried two of its own and the reasons – homicide, suicide, manslaughter – are much worse than the game has dealt with before.
For the past two Sundays, hundreds of thousands of screaming fans have been asked to observe a few for moments of silence to mark the deaths of two NFL players.
On December 1, 2012, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, 25, shot his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, 22, in the home they shared with their 3-month-old daugher Zoey. Then he drove to the team’s practice facility at Arrowhead Stadium, where he thanked his coaches for the opportunity to play pro ball. Then he walked back to his car and shot himself in front of those team officials. The Chiefs voted to go on and play their regularly scheduled game against the Carolina Panthers the next day in the very same stadium.
A week later on December 8, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jerry Brown Jr., 25, was killed in an auto accident – and his friend and teammate defensive lineman Joshua Brent, 24, was arrested for intoxication manslaughter for the fatal accident (see the Irving Police Information Release below). Brent was speeding through Irving, Texas, when his Mercedes hit a curb and flipped upside-down and caught fire. Brent escaped injury, but might not be so lucky in the criminal justice system. His blood-alcohol level tested at .18 – more than twice the legal limit – and his charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Less than 24 hours later, the Cowboys took the field in Cincinnati for a game against the Bengals – without Brown and Brent.
In the aftermath of the deaths, more information has leaked out about Belcher and Brent – although some questions might never be answered.
Jovan Belcher’s whereabouts in the hours before the murder/suicide have been reported in the subsequent weeks. Belcher spent his Friday night partying in a hip area of Kansas City and then drove to an alleged girlfriend’s home. Kansas City Police revealed that officers had found Belcher sleeping in his Bentley outside that woman’s apartment building at 3:05 a.m. – just a few hours before he killed Perkins.
In a dashboard cam video, police rouse Belcher who tells them his girlfriend lives inside. Belcher makes a phone call at the policemen’s request – and a woman lets him in. Witnesses say Belcher left at around 6:30 a.m., when he returned to his home and fought with Perkins, ultimately killing her. The 911 call that alerted police to the shooting was made by Belcher’s mother Cheryl Shephard, who was in town to help take care of the baby. “She’s still breathing but please hurry,” she told the dispatcher, “They were arguing, please hurry.” By the time police arrived at the home at 7:50 a.m., Belcher had left for Arrowhead Stadium where he would take his own life.
The last night of Jerry Brown Jr’s life also started off with high-life partying. Brown, who was soon to be a father himself, went partying with good-friend Brent and other Cowboys teammates at a Dalls-area VIP club called Privae. Brent, who had been jailed for DUI once before in Illinois, flipped his car at around 2 a.m. Brent would later tell reporters: “My best friend died, and I’m trying to deal with that.” But a witness at the scene told the Dallas Morning News that she heard Brown screaming from the fiery wreck and that Brent wouldn’t help, “Jerry was alive. He was hurt. He was calling out and his own friend walked away,” Stacee Williams recalled.
Brent’s first court appearance has yet to be scheduled, but he was released from jail the next day on $500,000 bail – in time to attend Brown’s memorial service. Brown’s father told reporters that his son would not want Brent to go to jail. “I’m not mad about him,” Jerry Brown said of Brent. “I know that was his best friend, and he’s hurting. He’s hurting more than I am hurting. But I am hurt, too.”
Belcher’s funeral was held on Wednesday near his Long Island hometown. It was bittersweet send-off for a well-loved young man who had become a professional football player and a loving father – but a man who ended it all for reasons yet to be discovered. The ceremony featured a photo slideshow ending with the words “In Loving Memory” of Belcher and Perkins – and a series of photos of Zoey with this message: “Keep this little girl in your prayers.” Although it is of little consolation for losing her parents, the NFL will support Zoey with more than $1 million in benefits under the league’s collective bargaining agreement with its players.
In an NFL season that began with negative headlines over an alleged bounty program in which players tried to gravely injure opposing players on the field, the focus for league officials has shifted off the gridiron.
League commissioner Roger Goodell told CBS Sports that the league intends to face its off-the-field problems head-on: “We are going to do some things to combat this problem because some of the numbers on DUIs and domestic violence are going up and that disturbs me. When there’s a pattern of mistakes, something has got to change.”
The league already has in place a number of counseling options for players, and ongoing seminars on topics like gun safety, alcohol and drug use. One program which could have altered the futures of those two Dallas Cowboys is the NFL Players’ Association Safe Ride system, which provides designated drivers or car-rides to any player who asks.
John Glavin, CEO of Corporate Security Solutions Inc., which runs the Safe Ride program, says he can only help when a player reaches out for help. As Galvin told the AP: “We can’t make them make the phone call.”